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Sharing About Teaching and Learning

by Lynette Sumpter, Dean of Academics and Director of The Center

This year I’m teaching a religion elective called “Psychology and Religion.”   The focus of the course is to examine religion through the lens of psychology, prompting deep thinking about religious phenomena and experiences. My primary work in graduate school was exploring the relationship between psychology and religion, and I found my graduate years of study extremely rewarding.  What was most powerful was finishing graduate school with even more questions necessitating a life-long learner approach to engaging these questions! 

Given that this is a new elective, it provides challenges and opportunities.  The challenge for me right now is taking very complicated material and presenting it in a way that is engaging and developmentally appropriate for a high school audience–no easy task!  Thank goodness I love a good challenge!  The opportunity, however, to teach in my discipline (the field of psychology of religion) is bringing me immense joy, and I have to thank my student guinea pigs for bearing with me as we take this journey together.  They have been great!

I recently assigned a journal assignment after the class watched the documentary A Complete History of God by Karen Armstrong.  If you’re interested, check it out on YouTube.  As I processed the journals, I was struck by the sincerity, deep questioning, and creative thinking abundantly clear in their musings.  They were so interesting that they prompted me to send an email to my colleagues in the religion department, the subject line of which is the title of this article.  I love that I teach in a school with wonderful students and also wonderful colleagues willing to actually entertain and respond to an email on teaching and learning in the midst of the everyday busyness of school life.  I’m in deep gratitude.

Here are examples of questions/comments from my students:

1) I had one student literally draw the question… had to share that!  It essentially asks if Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are related, then why the conflict in the Middle East?  Theological? Political Purposes?

2) [The movie] showed how religious traditions can change drastically over time.  It makes me think that in the future, there could be another shift from one widespread religious belief to another new and innovative set of beliefs.

3) How do we know that the people who said they saw God weren’t just crazy people?                                               (This one, in particular, made me laugh!)

4) This video made me more interested to explore my psychology and attempt to figure out why I think the way I do about religion.

5) Why do there have to be so many religions?

6) If there is only one true God, why isn’t it clear who it is?

Thanks to my class for honest engagement.  I’m looking forward to the remainder of the semester!

Lynette Sumpter is the Dean of Academics and the Director of the Center.  Her background as a former boarding school student and faculty member supports her belief that living in a residential learning community is a very special experience. She resides on campus with her husband, Neil Cifuentes (also a faculty member), their son Jacob, and Nova, a wonderful rescue dog. 

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